Shinobu’s Specially Made Pudding (Part 1)
When the autumn sun had set, the Old Capital was wrapped in darkness.
The big and small moons that usually traversed the night sky and shone down from the heavens, couldn’t be seen that night.
Today was day of the dual new moons.
Once in several months, both new moon phases occurred at the same time.
When both moons were hidden, the streets by the inns and stables were darker than usual.
Only the wind remained unusually strong, and leaves from the trees, which had been planted along the streets for shade, danced along with it.
「On the night of the dual new moons, it will appear…」
Eva muttered while wiping the table.
Eva trembled as she answered Shinobu’s question.
「Witch. A witch??」
Shinobu’s expression made it clear that she was not expecting a witch.
It was not a lie. There was a witch.
It was reasonable for Shinobu and Taisho to not know of it, as they had come to the Old Capital from some other place, but there was certainly a witch living in the forest.
「What is the witch like?」
「She lives in the depths of the forest, and performs suspicious curses night after night. She rides a broom through the sky, makes weird potions, kidnaps small children and defies the church.」
「It’s almost the same as the witches we know about.」
「Also…she likes alcohol and sweet things.」
A witch who liked alcohol and sweet things. There were stories about a witch who liked sweet things so much that she made a house out of sweets.
「Since she likes alcohol, she may come to this store.」
「Yes. The night of the dual new moons is dangerous.」
Even so, Eva wasn’t able to ask them to close the store.
Certainly, Izakaya Nobu had not had much business today. It was certainly empty. Not one customer had shown up that evening.
One person had stopped by, but it was only the butcher’s apprentice, who was delivering a letter to the wrong address. Izakaya Nobu was still open, but had no customers.
It wasn’t strange, as there was virtually no one on the streets outside.
Only idle lantern bearers could be seen wandering the streets, looking for customers.
The only people who would go out during the night of the dual new moons were those who couldn’t help it and had urgent business, or those who were curious.
Even so, there wasn’t enough reason for Taisho and Shinobu to close the store.
It would be pitiful if someone was not be able to find a drinking place when they wanted to drink liquor.
Eva also thought that it was fine.
Within the Old Capital, there was probably only one or two stores with such good intentions.
However, the witch was still scary.
It was alright to take a break like Helmina, but she had come before she noticed.
Unfortunately, it had started drizzling. The autumn rain was cold.
Shinobu sighed, and just as she murmured 「No one will come today, as expected.」, there was a slight tap on the glass door.
She thought it was the wind until it happened again.
The glass door opened to reveal a single female customer.
She was wearing a full black robe and had a hood pulled over her eyes, hiding her face.
It was the witch.
Eva wanted to hide, but she couldn’t.
This was a pub, and the other party was a customer.
Besides, it wasn’t yet confirmed that the woman was the witch.
Eva stared long and hard at the customer, but could not determine her age.
However, from the beautiful texture of the skin on the fingers under her cuffs, she seemed to be in her mid-twenties
「This is such an eccentric store, to still be opened on such a evening. I’m sorry it’s only a single lady here, but I’ll bother you all for a bit.」
Her voice was husky, and sounded like that of someone in her 60s.
After dusting off her dripping wet robe, the visitor sat down on a seat at the back.
Since she didn’t remove her hood, her expression could not be read.
She ordered ale and a suitable snack, preferably something warm.
This was Shinobu’s chance to show what she could do.
For the time being, the customer quenched her thirst with ‘Toriaezu Nama’ and settled her stomach with the otoshi, while Taisho warmed up the nitsuke.
The otoshi tonight was octopus and cucumber with Essig vinegar dressing. Eva had also tasted a little, and the texture of the octopus was interesting.
The nitsuke tonight was based on makogarei, a rare gem picked by Taisho himself, which he boasted to be delicious if made into sashimi.
He would’ve done that if it wasn’t the day for the dual new moons, but since he realised that there wouldn’t be many customers tonight, he had made it into a nitsuke right from the start.
(TL: makogarei = marbled solefish)
It was also delicious when boiled in soy sauce.
It was as delicious as the karei that had been served to the previous Emperor when he visited this store.
Shinobu preferred something that was lightly seasoned, but Taisho gradually made the taste stronger after observing the customers’ reactions recently. It was said that he had devoted himself day and night to enhance the dashi’s taste.
The customer also seemed to like the taste and was eating it with relish, while skillfully separating the meat from the bone with her fork and spoon.
Eva was indirectly observing the figure, when the customer let out a chuckle.
「Dear child, are you afraid of me?」
Eva was flustered and shook her head.
She thought she must apologise somehow, but the words did not come out properly.
「No, it’s not…customer-san is not a witch and…I’m not afraid of witches, and, and even if you’re a witch, we will show proper hospitality to you here in Izakaya Nobu.」
Upon seeing Eva frantically attempt to explain herself, the customer burst into laughter.
「I see, you thought that I was a witch. You’re a sharp one, young lady. If that is the case, it’s understandable to be afraid.」
「Ah, no, uhh…」
Was this customer really a witch?
However, it was true that this customer looked like a witch.
Eva thought that it wasn’t good to walk on the streets in those clothes during the night of the dual new moons. However, maybe it was just this customer’s hobby.
「Even so, this is quite an interesting shop, isn’t it?」
While enjoying the nitsuke, the witch-lookalike looked around the store.
Shinobu responded with a 「Thank you very much!」, and the customer looked at Eva and stifled a laugh.
「Well, this young lady and the shop assistant here is certainly interesting, so this store is definitely interesting to say the least. It feels like a lost breath of magic.」
「Oh, magic you say…?」
As expected, even Shinobu looked puzzled when the word ‘Magic’ was thrown out.
She might not really be a witch, even with that outfit, but Shinobu felt uneasy when she threw out words like ‘Magic’ like that.
The customer said, and focused her eyes on the Shinto altar.
They had splurged a bit, as gomoku inari was prepared as an offering on the Shinto shrine today, and to the people of the Old Capital, it was overflowing with an exotic atmosphere.
Why would she say it was magic while looking at the Shinto altar?
Eva had a strange experience with it once, but it was a secret.
(TL note: gomoku inari = 5 different types of sushi wrapped in inari skin)
「Although it’s magic, it is good magic. I do not know where it is connected to, but there’s a netting that only allows necessary people to pass through properly.」
「Eh, it’s connected, you say?」
Shinobu and Taisho looked at each other.
Eva had not said anything about the backdoor connection leading to a strange place. Of course, Shinobu and Taisho most likely knew about it, but how was this customer able to guess it correctly?
Only certain people could pass through it.
Now that she thought about it, Eva certainly did not see anyone coming in through the backdoor. It was strange enough if she thought about it, but was that called magic too?
「There used to be more ‘doors’ around here in the past. Have you seen mushrooms growing in a beautiful circle in the forest? Have you hidden your precious things in the hollow of a tree, only to find it missing the next day? Or maybe you’ve seen someone you passed by on a street walk into a dead-end alley and not appeared out of it?」
「All of that is magic, you say…?」
When Eva asked that, the customer laughed again.
「It’s possible that it’s magic, and it’s also possible that it isn’t.」
Eva’s knees couldn’t stop trembling.
Shinobu, who was holding a tray in front of her chest with both hands, was lost in thought.
Only Taisho looked like he was waiting for the customer to continue, with sparkling eyes. He was probably interested in magic.
「For example, this nitsuke. I have lived in this neighbourhood for a long time, but this taste is a first for me. Where in the world did you bring this fish and the seasonings from?」
This customer…was she really a witch?
Even Eva understood that it would be terrible if the secret of the backdoor of this store was leaked to someone.
In the worst case scenario, Izakaya Nobu would disappear.
There was no way that Baschouf was the only greedy person around.
Shinobu and Taisho also wouldn’t wish for such a thing.
Then, how did this customer know about it?
Just as the customer took another sip of the ‘Toriaezu Nama’ and was about to say something, the glass door was quietly tapped once more.